The Miami Dolphins flew home from Ohio on Thursday night following a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. While the team will look back at the film and try to correct what led them to dropping to 3-1 on the season, the more important part of their flight back was the inclusion of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on the plane. During Thursday’s game, Tagovailoa was sacked and sustained an awful looking injury. He was taken off the field on a stretcher and then was taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for a head and neck injury.
Discharged from the hospital after being evaluated, Tagovailoa was diagnosed with a concussion, but no further damage to his neck or spine. He flew home with the team and, according to head coach Mike McDaniel, he talked about the game for about 15 minutes before settling in next to McDaniel and they watched 2010 comedy MacGruber for the rest of the flight.
“All of his teammates were absolutely elated to see him on the plane,” McDaniel said during his Friday media availability. “He was elated. It brought him some joy, which was good to see. It’s one of the reasons you get into team sports.”
McDaniel explained some of what Tagovailoa was feeling Thursday night, as well as what was happening with the team’s 2020 fifth-overall draft pick on Friday. “He was honest about the fact that he had a headache. But his personality was definitely normal Tua,” McDaniel stated. “Talking to him this morning, I think he was still feeling some of those headaches. He’s probably just finishing his MRI right now. We’ll find the results on that. That was just an extra kind of precaution on top of the CT scans and X-rays that were taken last night.”
Asked about the prognosis for Tagovailoa’s recovery and if he could land on injured reserve as he deals with any post-concussion symptoms, McDaniel remarked that he is not even thinking about when Tagovailoa will be available to play. “I mean honestly, to be completely forthright, I’m not even thinking about timetables or anything regarding him as a player right now,” McDaniel said. “It’s all about Tua the person. What gets lost in all this is there’s human relationships. These aren’t just create-a-players. These are people that we mutually invest in and somebody I’ve grown very, very close to. So when it comes to head injuries and concussions, with things that severe, the only thing I’m worried about is the person first. We’re just worried about him getting healthy and getting all the testing done that he needs to get done, and us working with him so that we can feel good about where that injury is at. Then we’ll cross the bridge in terms of timetables and however long. I really haven’t even thought about that at this point.”
Criticism is surrounding the Dolphins and the coaching staff right now because Tagovailoa suffered what appeared to be a head injury in the team’s Week 3 win over the Buffalo Bills. Then, four days later, Tagovailoa was again sacked and hit his head on the turf, leading to the Thursday night scare. The Dolphins and the independent neurologist at the Bills game determined that injury was not a concussion or a neurological situation but was instead a result of a back injury. After the second injury, speculation has run rampant that someone did something wrong, and that Tagovailoa was put in harm’s way by being on the field Thursday night.
McDaniel addressed if he thought there was something different he should have done between Sunday’s injury and Thursday night’s situation, saying, “He was evaluated and then cleared by several layers of medical professionals, who – I don’t pretend to be one – but those people, the collection of them, cleared him of any head injury whatsoever. He had a back and ankle issue. So in terms of deciding whether or not to play a guy on a Thursday night game, I was concerned about his lower back and his ankle, and putting him in harm’s way. I have 100 percent conviction in our process regarding our players. This is a player-friendly organization that I make it very clear from the onset that my job as a coach is here for the players. I take that very serious and no one else in the building strays from that. So when I am talking about deciding whether or not to play, the only thing that would keep me from playing him would be something going against medical advice that would be just completely abstract on top of all that. I had no worries whatsoever. I’m in steady communication with this guy day-in and day-out. We’re talking about high-level football conversations about progressions and defenses and recalling stuff from two weeks previous and then him having to reiterate a 15-word play call. All things, absolutely no signs.”
He continued, “There was no medical indication, from all resources, that there was anything regarding the head. If there would have been, of course. If there would have been anything lingering with his head, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I prematurely put someone out there and put them in harm’s way. This is a relationship that I have with this human being. I take that serious. I wouldn’t have put him out there if there was any inclination given to me whatsoever that he was endangering himself from that previous game.”
He was asked a follow up about if there was any discussion about the dangers of Tagovailoa hitting his head a second time after the initial injury on Sunday, even if it was not ruled to be a concussion. “Again, I totally understand the concern and appreciate the concern,” McDaniel answered. “When I tell you that beyond an eyeball test, which I know for a fact you guys would not be very comfortable if I was just relying on that, and not – I mean, it’s the reason why we have tests. He did not have a head injury. So, guys hit their heads all the time, and that’s why I was adamant (that) he was evaluated for having a head injury and he did not have one. And when I tell you he was in complete mental concert, talking to us through it, and then he played the whole game and then he did a press conference and then he did media all week. As far as – if I were to sit someone for a medical issue going against medical people abstractly, then when do I play him again? I don’t – this was not, the timing of all of it, how things played out, I get the optics. I get exactly what it looks like. I understand all this and I understand people’s concern. But the one thing that I’m that I can exude with 100 percent conviction is that every person in this building had 100 percent the correct process and diligence. That’s why there’s not a player or person that you’d be able to talk to in the building that would think otherwise, because it is clear, contrite and not something that is negotiable, in any way, shape or form.”
As for the back and ankle injuries that slowed Tagovailoa during the days of practice between the Bills and Bengals games, McDaniel explained, “That’s also part of the deal with him. Yeah, it is. That and his ankle are still lingering, so those are pieces of concern for player. But again, right now it’s more about person. We’re 100 percent devoted to worrying about this concussion and having him pass through it in a healthy manner and then obviously the medical staff will be attending to those other injuries that are in the back of my mind right now.”
As for if he sees any issues with the league’s concussion protocols, McDaniel replied, “Honestly, from my medical understanding, with two unrelated events, from all the information that I’ve been given – two unrelated medical events – I don’t see a problem with the protocol if there’s not scientific backing to illustrate that he was suffering from a head injury. So from my vantage point, it’s pretty, pretty thorough when you’re talking about not only having designated people from your own organization who specialize in the field, but then you have independent neurologists, advising as well, I cannot express it enough – this was not a case of, ‘Hey, he has these effects, but…’ He had absolutely no head injury symptoms whatsoever once he was evaluated. I wouldn’t be able to from this specific situation draw anything from the protocols for good or bad, except that they are very thorough and thorough on the level of anything that has been in the National Football League since I’ve been in.”
McDaniel explained that Tagovailoa will stop by the team facility Friday afternoon briefly following the conclusion of his medical tests, but that any further access to the building will be based on his medical condition. ““t all depends on where they’re at in their significant symptoms – whether you’re sensitive to light and there’s a bunch of different stuff. But as far as moving forward, we’re just going to do what’s best for him. And if we have any indication that traveling in a car or coming around here isn’t the best thing for him, then we won’t do it.”
The Dolphins have ten days until the play the New York Jets in Week 5. The team is beginning preparations for that game, and McDaniel confirmed the team would start backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater against the Jets if Tagovailoa is unavailable. Rookie Skylar Thompson would serve as the backup.